Introduction

Throughout the Bible you will find certain stories, points, or events repeated to emphasize their importance. This post is about the number three used in the New Testament. The Bible does not specifically speak to the meaning of numbers within its pages, so we cannot know for certain the meaning of specific numbers used and should exercise caution by not reading into these verses something God did not intend. However, I also believe we would be amiss to disregard their usage in scripture.

According to my search at BibleGateway, there are 381 times in the Bible the number three is mentioned: 297 times in the Old Testament and 84 in the New Testament. Additionally, there are words or series of three things/people that are used throughout scripture.

One example is the angels singing to God, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3. Repeating holy three times emphasizes the importance of what the angels are saying.  

In the Hebrew culture, numbers held more significance than they do today. They believe the number three in scripture represented wholeness, or completeness. For example, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the triune God is whole and complete – three persons in one Godhead.

This blog post is a tool to show you where threes, or patterns of three are found. There are so many that I decided to break this article into two posts: The New Testament Threes in today’s post, and The Old Testament Threes, which will be posted next week.

A Biblical Story of Threes

Mary went to visit Elizabeth for three months while Mary (pregnant with Jesus) and Elizabeth (pregnant with John the Baptist) were both pregnant.1 Six months later the baby Jesus was visited by the Magi who brought three gifts for the child—gold, frankincense, and myrrh.2

Annual attendance at three feasts by all Jewish men was commanded in the law: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.3 The feasts were also usually attended by the whole family. When Jesus was 12 years old, after Mary and Joseph were returning home to Nazareth from the Feast of the Passover (held in Jerusalem), they discovered on the journey that Jesus was not with them. He went missing for three days and was finally found back in Jerusalem sitting in the temple courts, listening to the teachers, and asking them questions.4

At the age of 30, Jesus began his three-year ministry.5 Jesus was tempted by Satan three times in the desert after his baptism and before the start of his ministry.6 Jesus chose twelve men to follow him, three of whom were his closest friends – Peter, James, and John.7

It seems Jesus chose Peter as one of his three closest friends because God revealed only to Peter that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.8 James and John were brothers whom Jesus nicknamed the “Sons of Thunder.”9

These three accompanied Jesus to the mountain to witness his transfiguration with Moses and Elijah present.10 Shortly after Jesus’ transfiguration, he again taught his disciples, “The son of man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.”11 He also brought his three closest friends to the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his arrest.12 John was the only Apostle at the cross when Jesus died and there Jesus entrusted the care of his mother to John.13 James was the first apostle martyred for his faith after Jesus died.14

Despite their close relationship, Peter denied Jesus three times.15 Later, Jesus restored Peter by asking him if he loved him three times. All three times Peter said yes. Jesus told him to feed/take care of his sheep.16 If Jesus told Peter to take care of his sheep three times, this is important!

During his ministry Jesus raised three people from the dead – Lazarus, the widow of Nain’s son, and Jairus’ daughter.17 Jesus told the Jewish people at the temple, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”18 Of all the people Jesus healed during his earthly ministry, only three are named – Bartimaeus (blind man), Lazarus (Mary and Martha’s brother whom Jesus raised from the dead), and Malchus (the High Priests servant who’s ear was cut off during Jesus arrest).19

Three times (Once in the Old Testament and twice through Jesus in the New Testament), God fed multitudes of people with extraordinarily little food. All three times there was food leftover.20 Three times God spoke from Heaven glorifying Jesus.21 Three times it is mentioned that when Jesus returns, we will see him coming in the clouds.22 “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”23

Jesus was placed on the cross at the third hour of the day (9 a.m.) and died at the ninth hour (3 p.m.). 24 There were three hours of darkness that covered the land while Jesus was suffering on the cross.25 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)25b

The sign placed above Jesus’ head on the cross was written in three languages: Aramaic, Latin and Greek.26  Jesus was 33 when he died and was dead for three days before he rose again..27

God showed Peter in a vision three times that not only the Jews, but now also Gentiles would be accepted by God.28 Three men (Romans nonetheless!) came to get Peter (A Jew) after he received the vision to take him to Cornelius, the centurion, so he could hear about Peter’s vision from God.29 Four days earlier, at three in the afternoon, an angel appeared to Cornelius telling him to send for Peter.30  Peter spoke to the Gentiles telling him about the revelation he received from God – three times.

Saul (later named Paul) had been a persecutor of the church and even killed Christ followers.31 Saul was blinded for three days by God when God spoke to him asking why he was persecuting him.32 Saul’s heart changed during his three-day blindness. God sent Ananias to place his hands on him to restore his sight.33 Afterward, he got up and was baptized.34 After spending several days with the disciples, he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.35

Paul was the only human privileged to visit the third heaven, the location of God’s throne.36 He was not permitted to talk about it. To keep him from becoming conceited from this experience he was given a “thorn in his flesh.”37 Paul prayed three times for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed. But the Lord said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”38 Paul stayed in Ephesus for three months and spoke boldly in the synagogue.39 He then stayed three months in Greece.40 He also stayed on the island of Malta for three months.41 Among the difficulties Paul faced during his ministry, he was shipwrecked three times 42 and was beaten with rods three times.43

Jesus repeatedly stressed the message of his coming death and resurrection on the third day.44 Jesus said to the Jews, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (foreshadowing of his resurrection after three days in the tomb.)45 John reports that Jesus’ saying referred to His body and that “after he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.”46

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.47 A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.48  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”49

by Darci Joy Steiner

Conclusion

The number three seems to have the greatest importance revolving around Jesus rising from the dead on the third day, and the trinity, which you will find outlined in next week’s post: Threes in the Old Testament.

Can you think of more threes??? Feel free to mention one, two, or three in the comments below !!!

  • Endnotes:
  • 1 Lk 1:39-56 (New International Version)
  • 2 Mt 2:11
  • 3 Lk 2:41, Ex 23:14-17, Dt 16:16
  • 4 Lk 2: 41-50
  • 5 Lk 3:23
  • 6 Mt 4:1-11, Lk 4:1-13
  • 7 Mt 17:1, Mt 23:37, Mk 5:37, Mk 9:2, Mk 14:33, Lk 8:51, Lk 9:28
  • 8 Mt 16:13-20, Mk 8:27-30, Lk 9:18-20
  • 9 Mk 3:17
  • 10 Mt 17:1-8, Mk 9:2-8, Lk 9:28-36
  • 11 Mt 17:22-23
  • 12 Mt 26:36-46, Mk 14:32-42.
  • 13 Jn 19:25-27
  • 14 Acts 12:2
  • 15 Mt 26:69-75, Mk 14:66-72, Lk 22:54-62
  • 16 Jn 21:15-17
  • 17 Widows son Lk 7:11-17; Lazarus: Jn 11:1-44; Jairus’ daughter: Mk 5:37 and Lk 8:51
  • 18 John 2:19
  • 19 Bartimaeus: Mt 20:29-34, Mk 10:46-52, Lk 18:35-43; Lazarus: Jn 11:1-45; Malchus: Lk 22:50-51
  • 20 2 Ki 4:43, Mt 14:13-21, Mt 15:32-39
  • 21 Mt 3:17, Mt 17:5, Jn 12:28
  • 22 Mt 24:30, Acts 1:11, Rev 1:7
  • 23 1 Thessalonians 5:23
  • 24 Mk 15:25
  • 25 Mt 27:45, Mk 15:33, Lk 23:44-45
  • 25b Mk 15:34
  • 26 Jn 19:19-20
  • 27 1 Co 15:4.
  • 28 Acts 10:9-11:18.
  • 29 Acts 10:19-23
  • 30 Acts 10:30
  • 31 Acts 8:1-3
  • 32 Acts 9:9
  • 33 Acts 9:10-18
  • 34 Acts 9:18
  • 35 Acts 9:20
  • 36 2 Cor 12:2:2-4
  • 37 2 Cor 12:7
  • 38 2 Cor 12:7-9
  • 39 Acts 19:13
  • 40 Acts 20:3
  • 41 Acts 28:8-11
  • 42 2 Cor 11:25
  • 43 2 Cor 11:25
  • 44 Mt 16:21, Mk 8:31, Lk 9:22
  • 45 Jn 2:19.
  • 46 Jn 2:22
  • 47 1 Cor 13:13
  • 48 Ecc 4:12
  • 49 Mt 18:20
Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay

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